The Prisoner was messed up. It probably had some brilliant underlying theme about the nature of reality and how we’re all really prisoners to the superego of society as well as our own nature when we refuse to confront it, but it might also just have been about pie. I don’t know for sure. I’ve been told it’s about the nature of individualism vs collectivism, but I think that’s only one facet. The show’s conclusion is either brilliant or stupid, and, after reading through forty-five years of reviews and analysis of the episode, the only thing I know for sure is that I’m not the only one who isn’t sure if this is madness or genius. But, that kind of thought provoking ambiguity definitely is a merit in itself.
The show’s premise is that there is an island prison which houses people from all areas of society in “the Village.” It’s never outright stated, but it is implied that each person on the island is there because they have some key piece of information which has to be hidden from the rest of the world. Every person in the Village is known not by their name, but by their number. The protagonist is a former secret agent known only as Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan). The beginning of the series features his abrupt resignation from the service, and throughout the series the nefarious “Number 2” (Leo McKern) is constantly trying to find out the reason Number 6 quit. Throughout most of the series, Number 6 is focused on attempting to escape from the Village, but, in the penultimate episode, he decides instead to try and destroy the machinations of the Village’s leaders, and nearly kills Number 2. That’s how the last episode starts, and that’s the last thing that makes sense in the show, unless you love allegory.
The last episode was written by Patrick McGoohan, and was apparently what he dreamed up while taking as much acid and reading as much Kafka as he possibly could. Basically, after taking out Number 2, Number 6 asks to be taken to Number 1. Instead, he’s led to a chamber containing a parliament of delegates who preside over different areas of social institutions, like “education, anarchists, nationalists, pacifists,” etc. They bring in Number 48 (a random Mod) and a revived Number 2 as two examples of dangerous revolts, one of youth rebelling against that which it doesn’t understand, and the other of a servant biting the hand that feeds it. Number 6, now referred to as The Man, is then informed that, because of his revolutionary actions, Number 6 will be allowed to be an individual, instead of part of a collective. Additionally, he is given the option to lead the parliament, or leave the island. Insisting that he meet Number 1, he discovers that Number 1 is a man with his exact appearance. Number 1 flees, The Man escapes the island and returns to London, which is revealed to the audience to potentially just be another part of the Village.
This episode is not at all literal. The point of the episode is that society ultimately acts as a prison to everyone, and it is run by Number 1, society’s expectations of the individual. It is only when we defy what society wants us to do in the name of our own desires that we are truly individuals. Or, it’s about pie. Really, I’m not sure.
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Enjoy the show’s great opening: